Learn how to play the drums - One man's story of grit and perserverance

Learn to Play Drums

They say drummers are born with sticks in their hands. Rhythm courses through their veins. As babies they tap their feet and pound their toys. Nothing silent or stationary is safe.

Well, that isn’t exactly my story…

I’m 43 and I started learning to play the drums just over a year ago. I sort of wanted to play an instrument when I was younger, but sports and girls seemed more interesting. To be honest, learning to play an instrument looked like hard work.

It all started when I was buying a guitar for my daughter at a music store. The task was pretty simple. Go to shop, buy guitar, come home. Normally my wife likes to chaperone me when I go into certain shops (hardware, sports, computer, camping) but it seems the music store didn’t cause any alarms.

Anyway, when I walked into the store there was an electronic drum kit set up. Of itself that isn’t that remarkable, it was a music store. Above the kit was a sign that said, ‘Play a rock beat in 15 minutes. Guaranteed’.

I vaguely remember asking a guy holding drumsticks if this was true. Then suddenly, I was sitting at the kit, with headphones on, hitting the snare. It was amazing! I had a great song pounding in my headphones and killer kit in front of me.

Next thing I knew I was loading boxes into the back of my SUV (thankfully one of them was a guitar). I was a drummer. Holy s#@%.

Recommended Article: It’s never too late to learn the drums!

Introducing my kit to the family

When I got home I hid the guitar from my daughter and the drum kit from my wife. I realized I was going to have to share the news with her at some point. I just needed time to work on the story.

We have a double garage. Perfect. My wife can park her car out on the street and I will set up the kit where her car used to be. Nope, won’t be able to sell that. We have a rumpus room for our teenage kids… if I set the kit up there, they might want to play it… mmm. The plan was starting to form itself.

I walked inside and calmly told my wife I bought the family a drum kit. I said, “The kids will love it and I am even going to play it myself. You know, to keep fit and relax after work.”

She asked about the noise and I told her, “It’s an electronic kit. You play it using headphones!”. She smiled a little nervously.

Anyway, the main takeaway here is that the kit was now a part of the family.

I went downstairs, set it up next to the running machine and made it feel at home. Part of the gym? Pure genius.

I Have Form

storage in garage

There may be good reason that I’m not allowed to shop alone… I have form. I have a garage full of near new sporting goods and a few shelves of various not so goods. There was no way I was going to let ‘them’ relegate my drum kit.

So I played a bit every day.

It was actually fun pounding away to my favourite songs. At first I played for about 20 minutes a day, just to prove to my wife that this was no flash-in-the-pan purchase. Then, after a few weeks, I found myself tapping everything on my work desk with a pen to hear what it sounded like. I had the bug.

Drumming Keeps you fit!

(Is it too soon to buy a headband?)

learning how to drum

To be honest, I have never been one for regular exercise. I surf because it’s fun, not because it keeps me fit. I ride trail bikes because they are awesome and have little to do with exercise.

Now, I am learning to drum. Drumming is surprisingly physical. They say 30 minutes of drumming uses as many calories as a 20km bike ride with the advantage of not having to wear Lycra. (I just made that up) All I know is that after 12 months of drumming my wife looks at me a little different. I don’t want to read too much into this.

There have been some REAL studies on the physical benefits of drumming. Some say it is a significant cardio workout if you play non-stop for 30 minutes. Others say it is no more a workout than a game of golf. You can make up your own mind.

Part 2 – Learning to Play Drums

There are a few advantages to learning drums when you are older.

For starters, you:

  1. Are playing drums because you want to play.
  2. Can manage your expectations (fun, relaxation, exercise, jamming)
  3. Know what kind of music you want to play
  4. Can choose how you learn (online, teacher etc)
  5. Can play when you want to (especially with digital drums)

Stop.

I just realized I was speaking like I can play the drums. Compared to real drummer I can’t.

Does that bother me? A little.

I’m a bit competitive by nature. Typically, I will try to get as good at something as I can. I’ll put in heaps of effort and then, I don’t know, something happens. I loose interest. Photography, kayaking and Spanish come to mind. My wife might add marriage and parenting to the list…

Well, this wasn’t going to happen with drumming.

If you are thinking of taking up drumming and you are not sure where to begin, I highly recommend speaking with a drum teacher.

Anyway, I ignored the above advice and went online. I searched for, ‘best way to learn drums’. I then spent the next few hours laughing at drummer jokes and watching music videos. I’m easily distracted and I definitely needed help.

So, I found a drum teacher and booked a lesson.

Learning Method #1 – Get a Teacher

You can ‘learn’ almost everything you need to know online BUT…

A good drum teacher can assess your playing, suggest ways to improve and push you past your comfort zone.

I felt a bit lame taking music lessons at my age. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Aaron, my teacher is a nice guy around 30 years old. The first thing he said was, “Is your mum going to pick you up when we’re done?”.

I liked him straight away.

He asked me the expected questions like whether I had drummed before and what I wanted from taking lessons.

I told him that I wanted to play along to my favourite songs with headphones and maybe at some stage jam with friends. I also wanted to do something that’s both physical and creative. Drumming seems like a good fit!

Four Takeaways From my First Lesson

1) “Sit up straight”:
Having bad posture while drumming could cause back issues later on.

2) “Hold the Drumsticks correctly”:
Get a grip! If you hold your sticks incorrectly, it will slow your progress. I started off with what’s called the Matched Grip.

3) “The drumsticks need to become an extension of your hands. Carry them around!”
Yup, a license to walk around the house with my sticks and give everything a little tap (apparently quite annoying).

4) “For daily practice try tapping rhythms to songs from the radio. Keep the timing simple and solid.”
My steering wheel has now become my practice kit. I actually look forward to driving to and from work so that I can get my ‘chops’ up!

best way to learn how to drum
I have had a lesson every two weeks for almost 12 months now. It’s great to catch up and get a few tips on what I’m doing wrong and ways to improve.

Learning Method #2 – Online Tutorials & Videos

I love the Internet! There are online videos and tutorials for drummers of all levels.

Here are a few that were suggested to me:

  1. Melodics – Free and Subscription – Probably my favourite.

            Easy to use interface and comes with lots of ‘styles’. It gamifies learning by       scoring you and then punishes you when you stray… Even the free version will teach you heaps for a year!

            Especially good if you have a Roland electronic kit.

            Link: https://melodics.com/landing/partners/roland/vdrums

  1. Udemy – Beginners course costs about $20 and is great value
    Includes over 10 hrs of video instruction and covers everything you need to know as a beginner. Here’s a link:

    Link: https://www.udemy.com/learndrums/

  2. 180 Drums – Heaps of free videos! Paid plan is about $15/month.
    All together there are over 500 video tutorials that will teach you everything you need to know. Great exercises and advice with awesome instructors.

    Link: https://180drums.com/

  1. Drumeo – Again heaps of free content and lots of inspirational videos!
    There is a whole section on Rudiments with 40 free videos. I really like this one too!

            Link: https://www.drumeo.com/

Learning Method #3 – Practice the Basics

Rudiments is not a dirty word

My drumming teacher is big on rudiments! He had me practicing on a pad from the beginning.

He’s always saying:

“Rudiments are the building blocks for everything you’ll play.”

I practice them a little each day and it makes a huge difference to my playing.

It’s good to have a teacher to keep me honest!

‘Practice time with sticks and a pad is for building coordination and vocabulary, playing on the kit is time for making music’

One time Aaron pulled me up on my grip when I showed him what I was practicing. He told me to loosen up on the sticks to allow a smoother bounce. You can’t get that from a video!

Here’s an online resource that will help you get started with rudiments:

Link: https://www.40drumrudiments.com/

Learning Method #4 – Put on Headphones & Play With Songs You Love

Thought I would leave the best for last. This is why I started drumming!

Drumming has satisfied an itch I didn’t know I had. A ‘change’ happens when I crank up my favorite song in the headphones and I have drumsticks in my hands. It is beyond dancing. It’s even better than playing air guitar when your drunk.

Something primal is unleashed. I’ve read, “It’s like meditating while you’re punching a bag” and I get it. Your mind is deep into the music while your body is pounding out a beat. It’s the most fun you can have sitting down!

Playlists to build technique and keep you fit!

I understand that creating a playlist to practice with is a personal thing. Anyway, here are a few suggestions that Aaron gave me to get you started.

Straight ahead classic songs: Great for stamina, building your inner-clock, stamina, timing and teaching the importance of correct posture in steadiness and consistency at any tempo.

  1. Queen ‘We will rock you’
  2. AC/DC-‘Back in black’
  3. Led Zeppelin-‘Immigrant Song’
  4. The Police-‘Every Breath You Take’
  5. Michael Jackson-‘Billie Jean’
  6. Split Enz-‘Message to my Girl’
  7. Australian Crawl-‘Reckless’
  8. Phil Collins-‘In The Air Tonight’
  9. Kings Of Leon-‘Sex on fire’
  10. The Cure-‘A Forest’

And here are some next-level challenges that he gave me for stick technique, odd time playing, feel and coordination.

  1. Porcupine Tree- ‘The Sound of Musak’-Odd time and playing over the bar line
  2. Fiona Apple-‘On The Bound’ – Beat displacement
  3. The Police – ‘Spirits in the material world’ – Conventional rock beat vs. reggae style kick and snare placement
  4. The Beatles – ‘I want you (She’s so heavy)’ – Feel and timing changes from straight to swing
  5. Meshuggah – ‘Bleed’ – Repetitive and high-speed double kick drum playing with constant 1/4 note pulse on china cymbal
  6. Led Zeppelin – Black dog’ – Feel, playing over the bar line and rhythmic counterpoint
  7. Toto – ‘Rosanna’ – Shuffle beat, stick control development, use of ghost notes to create forward motion
  8. ZZ Top – ‘La Grange’ – Fast shuffle beat with stops and fills
  9. Rush – ‘YYZ’ – Stops, challenges memory development
  10. Stevie Ray Vaughan – ‘Cold Shot’ – Medium paced shuffle, great for finger strengthening and feel

Part 3 - Buying a Drum Kit

In the minds of many I went about this the wrong way. I bought my kit in a moment of inspired madness, without any understanding of what I was doing.

Since buying my kit, I have found that there are some real advantages with learning to play on an electronic kit.

Here are a few:

  1. You can practice quietly with headphones and not disturb the family and neighbours
  2. They are AWESOME. The kit is in tune and it sounds huge in the headphones
  3. There are different kit sounds to suit what ever you are playing
  4. They have built in tools like metronomes and some even have virtual coaches
  5. You can easily record your performances to check progress
  6. Jam quietly with a friend (or daughter) using the line inputs and dual headphones
  7. Electronic kits are portable (might come in handy if you are asked to leave home)

On the negative side, some drummers say:

  1. There’s a dynamic difference in the drum heads that will affect the way you play
  2. There’s more sound variation in an acoustic kit

I am sure there are more things, but electronic drums had me at ‘quiet’ and ‘awesome’. There is no way I’d still have a marriage if my wife had to suffer through me learning to play on an acoustic kit.

Recommended Article: Should I Learn on an Electronic or Acoustic Drum Kit?

Recommended Article: Beginners Guide to Buying a Drum Kit

Final Word

After playing for a year, I would say learning to play the drums has been a challenge that I’ve really enjoyed. I love putting on headphones after work and letting off some steam. Somehow, I think it’s made me easier to live with!

If you’re older and thinking about getting into drumming, my advice is to go for it. There is a drummer in all of us that deserves to be freed! Lately, I’ve been jamming with a guitarist friend and that’s taken things up a notch.

And by the way, my friends never miss a chance to have a quick hit after a few beers! To think, I used to suck like them!

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